The Value of a Wandering Mind

We’ve all heard that the greatest thoughts from the greatest minds occurred during times when they were daydreaming. There are plenty of articles talking about how downtime at work “significantly increases productivity”. While there’s plenty of research on this subject, try sharing that research with your boss the next time you have an important deadline. Daydreaming is so valuable for productivity and for developing new ideas, but between a hectic work and home life, when do we have the time?

I can admit that my work/life balance looks like 99.9% work and 0.1% life. And I’m sure finding that balance along with personal time is even harder for people with a family to feed and raise. And when your life is hectic like that, often times, you’ll find yourself stuck in a rut or find that it’s hard to come up with ideas. It begs another question-what do you do in that situation, especially if you can’t afford to take a proper vacation?

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I’ve come up with a solution that keeps you from having to take a vacation or from having to take time off work (all the managers reading this post are probably thrilled). I’ve called it taking a “mental vacation”. Due to my time as a student athlete and transitioning directly into my career right after graduation, I haven’t taken a vacation in about 3 years. In those three years, I saw my creative output dwindle down, especially the past few months when I was going non-stop.

About a month ago, I was driving home at night and in a moment of frustration, I decided to get lost and drive around to blow off some steam. That journey took me through the various steep hills of Northern California. What was interesting was that as I drove to higher and higher altitudes, my mind got clearer. Ideas started coming back and I found a renewed energy and inspiration. But that had to be a one hit wonder, right?

I started incorporating this into my weekly schedule. Once or twice a week after the sun goes down, I pick a city whether it be San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Jose, Los Gatos, or Morgan Hill and just drive around for 30 minutes to an hour. I’ve always been a positive person, but these nightly drives help me sort out any complex problems or personal insecurities so that when I would come into work, I come back with the renewed vigor of someone who has been in Hawaii for a week. Even better is the fact that my output has increased without sacrificing creativity or inner happiness.

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Life and work can be hard sometimes. Finding free time is even harder. But everyone has at least 30 minutes a week where they can let their mind wander. You don’t necessarily have to drive. Maybe it can be when you’re walking your dog. If you have a newborn, maybe driving them around with you can help put them to sleep and allow your mind to daydream, killing two birds with one stone.

Whatever technique works for you, the mind needs to wander sometimes. As J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “not all who wander are lost.” When you take the time, you’ll be quite surprised-you won’t only feel better, but you may find yourself traversing into a new frontier of possibilities and potential. For the more analytical types here’s a math equation: New possibilities + An Innovative Mind = New/Growing Earning Potential. P.S. Taking a vacation every now and then is still a wise and healthy thing to do.

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